Another agonizingly close encounter between the two combatants, and for the 10th consecutive time it was Australia who just did enough to get the win. It was a cracking game of rugby from the off, with both sides trading blow for blow like rock ‘em sock ‘em robots. The pugilism slowed somewhat in the second half, but through the final whistle it was a thoroughly engaging contest.
Debutant Sean McMahon had a dream run out against the Barbarians at Twickenham but he will be keen to forget his first half of test footy. His first post assignment was botched horribly and left Rhys Webb laughing all the way to the tryline with the game still in its infancy. A bad decision cost the Wallabies possession on a kickoff and he coughed up the ball in a tackle soon after. He had a better go of things in the second half, thankfully, a testament to his mental resolve.
Israel Folau’s try-scoring ‘drought’ was washed away in spectacular fashion when he touched down twice in a span of five minutes. First he cut a super line off a Michael Hooper half-break, then he picked off a terrible pass from Webb to glide 80 metres untouched completely against the run of play. Wales were treading dangerously by trying to play a little too flat on the gainline, and nearly handed away a second gimme before the half was done.
The experiment of George North at centre didn’t last long as Leigh Halfpenny was forced off with an injury on the half-hour mark. Cory Allen came on, with North pushing back to the wing and Liam Williams moving to his preferred fullback position. Allen had a couple decent touches, Williams wasn’t so hot. One kick in particular went straight down the middle of the park and nearly ended in a Wallaby try on the counter.
Wales were in danger of heading into the half a try down, but persistence paid off as they spurned the shot at three points and through sheer willpower Alun Wyn Jones went over from close range. The big lock was outstanding throughout, leading from the front and dominating every physical confrontation he found himself in.
Bernard Foley controlled the game well for Australia and as the defenses tightened up it was his boot that edged his side ahead. As Dan Bigger limped off with what looked like a groin injury, the home side’s chances looked decidedly slim. Credit to Rhys Priestland, however, as he stepped up with some quality touches and a couple class touch finders.
Wales showed great character in response and took the lead on a penalty try with fifteen minutes to go. Once again they passed on multiple shots at goal and opted for the scrum. Gethin Jenkins had replaced Paul James and the centurion made an immediate impact, hammering into a tired Sekope Kepu until Craig Joubert had seen enough and sauntered under the sticks.
Not to be outdone, Foley showed his own composure with a perfectly struck drop goal to retake the lead, and adding another to stretch it, but not before some bizarre decisions from his team risked their precarious position. With less than 4 minutes on the clock they turn down a penalty chance and instead kicked for the corner. Thankfully Foley didn’t think twice the second time, but his game sense seemed to fly away with the ball.
Australia won the restart and instead of grinding it out for the remaining 30 seconds, Foley kicked the ball straight into the arms of Williams. A desperate riposte looked as though it might yield a score but for North to knock on within steps of the 22 the Wallabies on the rack. Michael Cheika will have some words for his lieutenants for such inexplicable decision making.
The Welsh will be bitterly disappointed once again. Losing both Halfpenny and Biggar was a cruel blow, and they can be proud of their effort under the circumstances, but it’s scant consolation for what has become a defining rivalry. As if next year’s impending World Cup Pool A collision on October 10th wasn’t inviting enough, it promises to be deliciously fierce now.
WALES 28 vs 33 AUSTRALIA
Saturday, November 8, 14:30 GMT, Cardiff
03 mins – R. Webb try 5-0
04 mins – L. Halfpenny con 7-0
14 mins – I. Folau try 7-5
15 mins – B. Foley con 7-7
20 mins – I. Folau try 7-12
21 mins – B. Foley con 7-14
25 mins – A. Cuthbert try 12-14
26 mins – L. Halfpenny con 14-14
28 mins – T. Kuridrani try 14-19
29 mins – B. Foley con 14-21
40 mins – A.W. Jones try 19-21
40 mins – D. Biggar con 21-21
43 mins – B. Foley pen 21-24
57 mins – B. Foley pen 21-27
65 mins – Penalty try (scrum) 26-27
66 mins – R. Priestland con 28-27
73 mins – B. Foley drop 28-30
79 mins – B. Foley pen 28-33
L. Halfpenny (C. Allen 30); A. Cuthbert, G. North, J. Roberts, L. Williams; D. Biggar (R. Priestland 47), R. Webb (M. Phillips 54); P. James (G. Jenkins 57), R. Hibbard (S. Baldwin 57), S. Lee (R. Jones 69); J. Ball (B. Davies 69), A.W. Jones; D. Lydiate (J. Tipuric 76), S. Warburton (capt.), T. Faletau.
I. Folau; A. Ashley-Cooper, T. Kuridrani, C. Leali’ifano (R. Horne 76), J. Tomane; B. Foley, N. Phipps (W. Genia 69); J. Slipper (T. Faulkner 74), S. Fainga’a (J. Hanson 60), S. Kepu (B. Alexander 66); S. Carter (W. Skelton 51), R. Simmons (J. Horwill 67); S. McMahon (M. Hodgson 70), M. Hooper (capt.), B. McCalman.
Referee: C. Joubert (SARU)
Assistants: J. Peyper (SARU) & J.P. Doyle (RFU)
TMO: G. Hughes (RFU)